How do I find a new direction in my art?
March 23, 2014 2:53 PM   Subscribe

I've been painting for a year now, and I'm at a phase where I hate everything I've done and feel ready to do something different. I use acrylics and do abstract paintings (I've dabbled in watercolors). I look at a lot of art, both online and in person, so I am getting plenty of inspiration, but nothing is really calling me to try it. I want to make art that at least has meaning to myself, if not for others, but I don't feel like I've done that and I don't know how to now. A short lists of artists I like includes Joan Mitchell, Zao Wou-Ki, Tracey Emin, Cy Twombly, Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning, Jules Olitski, Pat Steir, Gerhard Richter.
posted by mermaidcafe to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Only a year? You're barely just beginning. Those artists you list spent their lifetimes practicing and evolving their art and exploring their inner worlds.

Do you keep sketchbooks? That's the best way to explore and find your personal expression.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:03 PM on March 23, 2014

Don't stop! Paint what you hate onto that canvas until it comes clear; the nice thing about acrylic is that you can keep on painting, it dries FAST and if you don't like where you are now just keep moving that knife or brush or both or whatever else.

You don't have to chase it around forever, sometimes it's just time to stop; it's a flop. It's just not gonna happen today. Tough shit. It is at least a record of the day.

One painting mentor told me that we really don't even need more than one canvas if/when painting acrylic, we could just paint right over it tomorrow, or later this afternoon. Because the joy is in the painting of it, the joy is in the creation of it. But -- isn't it nice to have a record? Where was I that day, what happened on the canvas that day. We keep the paintings to have a record. I understood her perfectly. I really love her.

An old mentor told me, long years gone by, Jim told me this: Don't tell a scoffer. Which is to say, you let someone in on what you're doing and they say it sucks, it can sap your energy, and your belief in yourself.

Protect your art heart.

There is a time to take criticism, and there are people to take it from, and to take instruction from. Find them, learn from them, respect them, thank them.

But there are other people wandering around out there who'll take the wind right out of your sails. No problem, all kinds of people out there in The People Store, and that person might be a great one to go to coffee with, or a movie, or sew a new hat. Whatever. But keep that person away from your paintings, esp on days when you're not strong.

Don't tell a scoffer.

Keep looking at art you love. Find a friend to paint with maybe, or at least to share back and forth what you're up to. Keep finding the things that feed your art heart, and keep to them. And paint your way through this.

You've got guts to even be doing it. Don't stop. Find your way.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:27 PM on March 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

You could take a break - give yourself 2 weeks to not worry about what to paint, read instead, then come back to your work refeshed.

Or take a class. Sometimes a good class can be very inspiring.

Or work on technique. Find a good website or book with techniques you'd like to master, and just do the exercises without worrying too much about inspiration. Accept that inspiration will return but cannot be controlled, and be patient.
posted by bunderful at 3:35 PM on March 23, 2014

Def consider taking a class. It helps a lot to be around other people and seeing how they do it, their failures and successes.
posted by Murray M at 3:58 PM on March 23, 2014

The people I've known who were good painters worked on drawing a lot; that might be worth a try
posted by thelonius at 4:12 PM on March 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try to paint some subject matter that's disturbing to yourself. Something that you'd never consider ever showing someone. You can paint over it, just get used to painting the thing that scares you most.
posted by xingcat at 4:14 PM on March 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's normal to go through phases when you hate what is appearing on your canvas. Keep going, keep challenging yourself, and don't lose heart. I don't do this myself (for a number of reasons) but I have artist friends who embark on loosely defined challenges where they have to draw something specific each day.

I'd recommend trying to look at older art and art from different cultures. Challenge your eye too.
posted by kariebookish at 4:30 PM on March 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Keep a sketchbook, and play with technique. Try oils and encaustic. Try acrylic media and collage. Change your studio soundtrack. Look at art in person instead of in books or online. Go to a live music show or twenty. Sketch during or after each one. Get a sketchbook with medium hue pages (burnt sienna or kraft paper color) and tuck a tiny tube of white gouache with your pencils/pen so you can sketch in shadows and highlights. Take a road trip, bring a camera, but stop and paint outside too. Paint outside.
posted by annathea at 4:55 PM on March 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

What might be a good idea at this stage of your development – which is early, and that's fine and that's good – is to get six canvas panels, grit your teeth, and make six paintings of a type you haven't made before. Six still lifes. Six landscapes. Six red paintings. Six paintings of squares. Pick a direction and go there without worrying about whether it is "calling" you. See if you can make the painting call you.
posted by furiousthought at 5:03 PM on March 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

In my r&r days when I (or my band) was stuck writing a song, I'd blindly pick a few chords (written on bits of paper) out of a bowl and create a verse or chorus from them. It broke the ice and often led to some interesting stuff.

Maybe take this exercise and pick two or three of your listed favorite artists and meld their styles to your content. IOW, what would a Mitchell painted by Richter look like? Paint what your mind sees, several times, and see if it opens up some inspiration.

And I nearly always say to new painters who ask how to find their own style: First, paint 100 paintings and then get back to me!
posted by artdrectr at 10:17 PM on March 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding kariebookish. The fact that you hate what you were doing before means that you're growing as an artist. Disatisfaction with what you have created previously is often the precursor to a shift in the way that you work.

Keep going and keep painting and keep looking at what you paint. Try to articulate to yourself what it is that you don't like about your previous works now - keep a studio notebook/diary for these thoughts.

Try working at different scales too - if you work small try working larger and vice-versa.

Just keep going - something will happen and you'll get back that sense of excitement and discovery again. This is totally normal, and just an annoying but necessary part of the rhythm of creative practice.
posted by Chairboy at 2:28 AM on March 24, 2014

Franz Kline is one of my favorites.. I think you would like him too.

He used to paint gestures on phone book pages to test ideas before going to big canvas. I always thought that was a really good lesson for all artists... make lots of small scale tests and studies before moving to a larger canvas.
posted by j03 at 11:11 AM on March 24, 2014

Julia Cameron, in her book "The Artist's Way" advocates: regularly going on excursions outside your normal orbit & keeping a daily journal. The book goes into great detail on why/how this would work for you.
posted by mrmarley at 11:46 AM on March 24, 2014

This might be a good time to read about the Helsinki Bus Station Theory and the advice to stay on the f*cking bus, which may not directly apply to your question as written, but it addresses a similar issue for artists early on in their careers.
posted by TwoWordReview at 1:29 PM on March 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

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